A firestorm over remarks by a senior Palestinian diplomat about the future Palestinian state was the result of misquoting and misinterpretation, the diplomat told The Huffington Post Wednesday night.
Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the U.S., was described in a USA Today report early in the day as saying that the future Palestine should be free of Jews.
"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," USA Today quoted Areikat as saying.
But in an interview with The Huffington Post, Areikat rejected USA Today's characterization of his remarks, saying that he would never want to ban Jews from a Palestinian state.
"Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine," Areikat said by phone. "What a statement that would be for me to make! I never said that, and I never meant to say such a thing. This is not a religious conflict, and we want to establish a secular state."
A tape recording of Areikat's remarks from the on-the-record breakfast Wednesday morning, sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, shows that his words were more nuanced than first reported: He described the terms as his "personal" view, and specified that this situation would apply "at first," not in perpetuity.
His full quote, in response to a question about a Jewish minority remaining in Palestine, is below:
Well, you know, I think - I still believe, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future. But after the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction I think it would be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated at first.
In the interview with HuffPost, Areikat reiterated that Israeli soldiers and settlers -- "persons who are amid an occupation, who are in my land illegally" -- would be rejected from the new Palestinian state.
But he added that he would not like to see any restrictions on access to religious or holy sites for any person of any faith or nationality.
"When it comes to religious freedom and the right of all to visit respective sites in Israel and Palestine, of course all cities should be open to all religions," he said.
"Jerusalem right now is restricted -- Palestinian Muslims and Christians cannot visit it. Christians, Muslims and Jews must be able to visit their respective sites in both countries. This wasn't even on my mind when we asked the question -- I thought he was talking about settlers staying in Palestine."
Areikat said he was particularly upset that the USA Today account compared Areikat's point of view to Nazi Germany, and suggested that he had called for a new country that would be cleansed of all Jews.